Movie review: Patriots Day overlooks the heart of the matter

In Patriots Day, Mark Wahlberg plays a composite character in pursuit of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombers. CBS Films In Patriots Day, Mark Wahlberg plays a composite character in pursuit of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombers. CBS Films

Patriots Day is a reductive, insulting, dishonest bit of emotional manipulation that bullies its audience into withholding criticisms out of fear that they will be taken as insults against the heroic people of Boston who came together in the wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. No, director Peter Berg and co-producer/star Mark Wahlberg do all the insulting on their own with a reductive, pandering, self-congratulatory piece of exploitation that casts aside real people to vaunt the accomplishments of a fictional cop who does not even exist. So much for being dedicated to the everyday heroes.

Patriots Day
R, 133 minutes
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema

Before we proceed with the rest of the review, one point needs to be made clear. Despite what some are saying, there is nothing inherently exploitative in making a film about the bombing and its aftermath. It is not “too soon,” and as long as art requires money to produce, there is nothing intrinsically hypocritical about selling tickets to a film that deals with heavy subjects. This sort of thinking led the world to dismiss Janet Reitman’s excellent investigation, “Jahar’s World,” for Rolling Stone and should not automatically be used as convenient ammo against Patriots Day. Its sins are much too serious for us to resort to potshots.

In the name of fairness, let’s lead with the good. Patriots Day presents itself as a procedural, following the series of events just before, during and in the week following the attack. Possibly the best aspect of the film is its use of real figures—Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman), Watertown Police Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese (J.K. Simmons), FBI special agent Richard Des- Lauriers (Kevin Bacon) and others. Berg follows the action from several points of view, including Sean Collier (Jake Picking), the MIT officer shot and killed by the Tsarnaevs, and Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang), whose car was stolen by the attackers. We even follow Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev with glimpses into the elder brother’s domineering behavior toward his impressionable and passive sibling.

When the film focuses on the intense minutiae of police work or spending time with people living their lives with no knowledge of the events they are about to be thrust into, it often works. The carjacking scene alone, in which the Tsarnaevs reveal their paranoid and conspiratorial mindset while Meng attempts to play along so as not to anger his abductors while also planning his escape, could have been its own film. A scene in which an interrogator (Khandi Alexander) grills Tamerlan’s wife is truly riveting and possibly the best single-scene performance of the year.

So where does Wahlberg fit into all of this, you may be asking? He plays Tommy Saunders, a composite character who never existed yet manages to be at the finish line at the time of the explosion, tells the FBI what’s what, pursues the bombers into Watertown, inspects the boat where Dzhokhar was eventually found, then shakes hands with David Ortiz before a Dropkick Murphys song plays over the credits. Berg, Wahlberg and company felt creating this caricature of a man was more worth their time than to acknowledge the existence of non-uniformed heroes like Carlos Arredondo, the famed cowboy- hat-donning activist and first responder who can be seen in videos running directly into the chaos before the smoke has even cleared. Berg fixates on Saunders as he guides ambulances full of EMTs whom we never meet and victims who are often not named until the end.

There is a film to be made about this subject, and Berg sometimes proves it with the occasional scene that holds together. But in the end, Patriots Day is not dedicated to any real heroes, but to self-parody and fictional authority figures.


Playing this week

Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213

A Monster Calls, The Bye Bye Man, Fences, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Live By Night, Moana, Monster Trucks, Passengers, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Sing, Singin’ in the Rain, Sleepless, Underworld: Blood Wars, Why Him?

Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000

Fences, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Live by Night, Manchester by the Sea, Passengers, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Silence, Sing